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75 Candles

My mom’s 75th birthday was yesterday.  I’ve always thought my mom had the best birth date…10-20-40.  Since turning 75 is kind of a big deal, we made it into a two day celebration.  After all, she was turning ¾ of a century old.  Our goal was to make this birthday an especially fun one for her!

Happy 75th (1 card/1 envelope)

We started on Monday with a trip to the nail salon and then lunch at mom’s favorite, Cracker Barrel Restaurant.  During lunch, I asked if she had any thoughts on turning 75 and she said, “I sure have met a lot of neat people in 75 years!”

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At the salon, Mom got a manicure, and her first ever pedicure.  She said if she had known how nice pedicures were, she would have gotten one much sooner!  After her nails were done, I took her home and admired her latest embroidery project.  Since she had a stroke three years ago, some activities are too difficult for her but not embroidery.  She still does beautiful needle work.

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My mom was 19 when I was born…almost still a kid herself.  She had to grow up very quickly to meet the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood.  When I think of my mom, I can still picture the younger version of her in my mind.  Looking back, I remember how she would make mud pies with me when I was a young child.  I also remember sitting with her every night before bedtime while she read to me from books like Heidi and Black Beauty.  I think of how she loved to cook and always made such wonderful meals for our family when my brothers and I were growing up.


When we are young, we take our moms for granted and assume they will always be there.  When we become young adults, we sometimes pull away from our moms as we establish our adult lives.  This often changes when we have children of our own and realize just how much our moms mean to us.  When we get older, we realize that our time on this planet is a limited resource, and we pray that we will get to keep our moms with us for as long as possible.

After my my mother’s mother died in 2001 at the age of 87, my mom would say, “I wish I could just pick up the phone and call her again.”  She even told me that she started to dial grandma’s number a few times before she caught herself.

scan0017I see a lot of friends on Facebook who mention their moms and wish they could have just one more conversation or one more day with them.  I’ve found that no one can take the place of our moms in our hearts or in our lives.

I left my mom’s house Monday afternoon with the promise to see her the next day on her birthday.  What she didn’t know, was that my husband and I would be back at her house that night with a fun surprise.  Dad was in on the fun too!  After she went to bed, we slipped into the house with pink and purple flowers (her favorite) and cinnamon rolls for her to find in the kitchen in the morning when she awakened.

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We then went outside and covered her front yard with a large flock of pink flamingos and signs borrowed from a friend.  The signs read “Happy Birthday June!” and “The Flock is in Shock!”

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The next day I called mom to say “Happy Birthday” and to hear her laugh about the flock of flamingos in the front yard.  Her next door neighbor enjoyed the flocked front yard too and called my mom with birthday wishes.  Other family members called, snail mailed cards, sent flowers and Facebook birthday messages.  One call that meant a lot to her was from her brother in Indiana.

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Dad took mom to have her hair cut and styled late in the morning.  She had requested seafood on her birthday, so we all met at Red Lobster for dinner.  After dinner, we went back to my parent’s house so mom could open her presents and we could all have the traditional birthday cake and ice cream.  Did we make her blow out 75 candles you ask?  No, we didn’t.  We let her blow out a 7 candle and a 5 candle after she made her birthday wish.

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Mom said her 75th birthday was so much fun that she wanted to have another one next week.  And really, isn’t that the way we should all feel about our birthdays, no matter what the number?

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*Author’s note.  Along with my mother, McDonald’s Restaurant is 75 years old this year!

the 75-year old company.

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Love you, Mom!

The Invasion Of Pumpkin Spice!

Now that we are into October, the world has bloomed in “pumpkin”.  Pumpkins and pumpkin flavored products are everywhere, which is surprising since I saw a segment on the news recently that said there would be a pumpkin shortage this fall.  It seems all the rain that fell in May and June impacted the pumpkin crop by cutting the yield by as much as half.  Evidently, the rain caused the pumpkin plants to have shallow roots and also spread diseases within the pumpkin fields.

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Pumpkins are native to North America and are actually a part of the winter squash family.  The main nutrients in pumpkins are lutein and both alpha and beta carotene.  Beta carotene generates vitamin A in the body.

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Pumpkins have been around for a long time.  The oldest pumpkin seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 B.C. were found in Mexico.  It is said that Columbus took pumpkin seeds back with him to Europe.

He Didn't Discover America

Pumpkins were a part of the Native American diet, especially in the winter because they could be stored for a long time.  They would roast pumpkin strips over campfires, and would eat pumpkin pulp and seeds.  Even pumpkin blossoms were used in stews.

In addition to eating pumpkins, Native Americans dried out the pumpkin shells and used them as containers and bowls.  Native Americans introduced both pumpkins and squash to the Pilgrims and they became an important staple of their diets too.

Pumpkin is surprisingly great

The Pilgrims were known to make pumpkin beer by fermenting a combination of persimmons, hops, maple sugar and pumpkin to make a brew.  There is documentation that roasted pumpkin was served at the second Thanksgiving celebration.  Perhaps pumpkin beer was served too!

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The word “pumpkin” comes from the Greek word “pepon”, which means “large melon” or “something round and large”.  The French changed this word to “pompon”, and the British changed it to “pumpion”.  Later, American colonists changed it to “pumpkin”.

Traditional pumpkins weigh between six and eight pounds although they can weigh as much as 75 pounds.  A variation of the traditional pumpkin that are grown for competitive purposes are called giant pumpkins.  These giant pumpkins usually weigh 1500 pounds or more and are often a highlight of pumpkin festivals. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Beni Meier of Germany grew the heaviest pumpkin to date.  On October 12, 2014 he presented a massive pumpkin which weighed 2,323.7 lbs.

Giant pumpkin

There are 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins grown in the United States every year.  The top pumpkin-producing states are Illinois, my home state of Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.  The Nestlé Company produces 85% of its Libby’s Brand processed pumpkin at their plant in Morton, Illinois.  According to, the canned pumpkin for pie filling still dominates the market over all other pumpkin products, with $135 million in sales in 2014.

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In my post last week, I told you we tried the new pumpkin spice caramelcrisp popcorn at Garrett’s in Chicago.  It was very good too!  After we returned home, I began noticing pumpkin spice flavored products in the grocery stores.  Yesterday, I was in a woman’s clothing store that smelled like pumpkin spice.  The manager told me they had put the scent in the ventilation system.


Our stores and restaurants been invaded by pumpkin spice.  MSNBC calls it “pumpkin spice mania”!  This is the 12th year for Starbuck’s popular Pumpkin Spice Latte which returned to stores on September 8th.   I heard that Chipotle has a pumpkin spice burrito.  Has anyone tried it?

pumpkin spice is back.



After dinner at Saltgrass Steak House last night, we carried out a piece of pumpkin cheesecake to share.  The experts predict that over a third of us will purchase at least one pumpkin-flavored product between now and Thanksgiving.

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My husband and I decided to go shopping to see just how many pumpkin spice products we could find.  We went to several different grocery stores on our search for pumpkin spice and we were not disappointed.  In fact, we were surprised by how many products we found.  The most surprising product was the pumpkin-flavored dog food.  Well, and the gum.  I heard there was pumpkin spice-flavored toothpaste, but we didn’t find any.

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I bet you are wondering if we brought any of the pumpkin-flavored goodies home to try.  We did.  We bought several…the Pumpkin Spice M & M’s, the Philadelphia Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese, the R.W. Knudsen Pumpkin Spice Sparkling Juice and the Grands Pumpkin Spice Rolls.  So far, we both like the sparking juice but that’s all we’ve tried.

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Have you tried any of the pumpkin-flavored products in the stores?  What are your favorites?

I will leave you with my favorite fall recipe.  It’s for pumpkin bread and uses Libby’s canned pumpkin.  Like most of my best recipes, I got it from a friend.  I’ve made it every fall for the last 25 years.  It’s quick, easy and delicious, and makes three small loaves so you can share.  I buy the three-pack of small foil bread pans with lids.

Pumpkin Bread

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 small (15 ounce) can Libby’s pumpkin

4 eggs

1 cup oil

½ cup walnuts (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer.  Spray your baking pans with non-stick spray and bake at 350o for one hour.

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Enjoy and Happy Fall Y’all!

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20 Ways the Pumpkin Spice

Our Two Day Adventure

On our recent trip to the Midwest for our grand-niece’s first birthday party, we flew into Chicago and then drove a rental car to Indiana.  Since our trip there, I’ve been wondering how big Chicago is and how it compares to the other large cities in our country.

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Can you list the three largest cities by population in the United States?  What about the five largest?  I couldn’t.  I had the first one correct…New York City…but after that, I wasn’t sure.

For those of you who are like me and don’t know, here are the top 10 cities in our country and their population based on the 2010 U.S. Census numbers:

  1. New York, New York – 8.1 million
  2. Los Angeles, California – 3.8 million
  3. Chicago, Illinois – 2.7 million
  4. Houston, Texas – 2.1 million
  5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 1.5 million
  6. Phoenix, Arizona – 1.4 million
  7. San Antonio, Texas – 1.3 million
  8. San Diego, California – 1.3 million
  9. Dallas, Texas – 1.1 million
  10. San Jose, California – 945,942

We had two full days and three nights in Chicago before we flew back to Texas. Chicago is BIG and two days is not much time to see our country’s third largest city.

everything about Chicago,

Before we left, my husband, Jeff, and I discussed how much we could see and do in two days.  My Chicago “must do” list for him was Navy Pier, the Sears/Willis Tower, Walker Brothers for pancakes, Garrett’s Gourmet Popcorn, the lakefront on Lakeshore  Drive, the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park and the Bean, and maybe, a museum.  There are many other wonderful things to see and do, but these seemed like a pretty fun mix of highlights for our short stay and for his first time visiting Chicago.

Walker Brothers Pancakes

Best pancakes on the planet at Walker Brothers!

Our hotel was located not far from many of the local attractions, so we made the “healthy choice” and decided to walk as much as we could.  By walking the city, we ended up seeing so much more than we would have if we had taken cabs to all the tourist attractions.

Photo of skyscraper window washers by Jeff Hull

We started our Chicago tour with an architectural boat tour of the city from the Chicago River.  Yes, it’s the same river they dye bright green for St. Patrick’s Day.  By boat, we were able to see the wonderful mix of old and new buildings which make up the huge and impressive Chicago skyline which is built on the edge of Lake Michigan.  My husband had never seen Chicago before and he kept commenting that it was so much bigger than he had expected.

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Over the years, I’ve learned when traveling to a new city it’s really fun to try the local food for which they are known, and to stop at any place that looks interesting.  After the boat tour, we walked toward Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.

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Cities like Chicago have their own energy and rhythm and it was fun to be a part of this for a short time.  When you walk the city blocks with the locals and hear all the street noise, you feel the pulse of the city.

Photo by Jeff Hull

Just before we arrived at the park, we found one of the famous Garrett Popcorn Shops.  If you are not familiar with Garrett’s, you must put trying it on your bucket list.  I always think I’ve built it up in my mind to be better than it really is until I taste it again.  It really is that good!  My husband liked the Garrett Mix which is cheese popcorn and caramel popcorn mixed together.  My favorite is the Pecan CaramelCrisp.  We also sampled their new for fall Pumpkin Spice CaramelCrisp flavor.  Yum!

Garrett Popcorn

After we reached Millennium Park, we sat on a park bench and rested before we went in search of the infamous Bean.

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The Bean is a huge stainless steel sculpture that is shaped like, well, a bean.  It measures 33 x 66 x 42 feet and weighs 110 short (2000 pound) tons.  The real name of the Bean is “Cloud Gate” and it was created by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor to reflect and distort the Chicago skyline.  The sculpture, which was dedicated in May of 2006, is so big that people can walk beneath the skinny part of the Bean to the other side.  We had fun taking pictures there along with lots of other folks!

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Photo by Jeff Hull from the underside of the bean or Cloud Gate.

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Can you find our reflection in the bean?

We also enjoyed the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.  This is an interactive art and video sculpture designed by artist Jaume Plensa, which opened in July of 2004. The fountain is a black granite reflecting pool placed between a pair of 50 feet tall glass brick towers which face one another. The towers use light-emitting diodes to project faces of local Chicago residents.  At timed intervals, the fountain spews water from the mouths of the people whose images are on the screen.

Photo by Jeff Hull
Photo by Jeff Hull

On our way back to our hotel that afternoon, we had the opportunity to help a woman who misjudged the curb and fell flat on her face on the sidewalk.  At first, she thought that perhaps she had broken her nose, but after a few moments she decided that she was fine and thanked us for our help.

At one point, we walked past a Catholic Church just after a mass had ended.  The church bells were ringing as a stream of people poured from the beautiful building.  We don’t get to hear church bells very often and it was such a pleasant sound!


Photo by Jeff Hull

We continued on our walking journey and stopped at the Gothic Revival styled Tribune Tower Building.  This building houses the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Media, and Tribune Publishing in addition to WGN Radio…the station that broadcast Chicago Cubs, White Sox and Bulls games when I was growing up!  They had announcers sitting in a window of the building doing a live broadcast as we walked by.

Photo of Tribune Tower in

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On impulse, we went inside and found a beautiful lobby with walls of engraved quotes, including the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.  As a writer, I was awestruck by this magnificent building and its walls of words.  It also had a huge golden clock.

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Photo by Jeff Hull

The outside base of the Tribune Tower Building contains 120 stones from important locations all around the world.  Each stone has engraved words beside it telling where the stones originated.  I took pictures of many of them.  What an interesting building!  When I think about our time in Chicago, this was my favorite of all the places we saw.

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We walked to Geno’s East to enjoy Chicago’s fabulous original deep dish pizza for dinner.  We laughed at the graffiti which covered everything.  I do regret now that we didn’t leave any graffiti of our own!

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Photo by Jeff Hull

Our day ended at Navy Pier under the soft glow of streetlights.  We walked from one end to the other and enjoyed the music that played the whole length of the pier.  We sat on a bench and looked out at Lake Michigan as various dinner boats cruised by us.

Photo by Jeff Hull

The next day we visited the Museum of Science and Industry, and on the way back, asked our cabdriver to drive along the Gold Coast on Lakeshore Drive with all the apartment and condominium buildings overlooking Lake Michigan.  I wanted Jeff to see the Oak Street Beach.  What a contrast to have a sandy beachfront right next to a massive city!

Oak Street Beach Virtual Tour

After walking to Giordano’s Pizza for dinner, we visited the Sears Tower which is now called the Willis Tower.  Our cab driver told us that people who live in Chicago don’t like the name change and still call it the Sears Tower.  One other change since the last time I was there years ago was that we had to go through metal detectors to enter the building.

Giordano's Pizza

The Willis Tower in Chicago

The Willis Tower took 2,000 workers three years to build and opened in 1973.  It is 1,450 feet high, or 1,730 feet high if you include the twin antenna towers.  We took the elevator up the 103 floors to the Skydeck.  According to the folks at the Willis Tower, the elevators are among the fastest in the world and operate as fast as 1,600 feet per minute.  Yes, our ears were popping as we rapidly headed skyward in the elevator.

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There were four new ledges that extend four feet and three inches outside of the 103rd floor building on the side overlooking Wacker Drive and the Chicago River.  They were designed by the building’s original architects, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.  Each box is made of three layers of half-inch thick, clear, laminated glass.  When you step out on the ledge, you can see the city 103 floors directly below you.

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The information about the ledges says they can hold up to 10,000 pounds.  Other tourists were standing out on the ledges taking pictures of one another and of the lighted city below.

My husband was much braver than me and walked out on one of the ledges.  I tried a couple of times but my knees became weak and began shaking whenever I neared the edge of the ledge. I did manage to step on and off a ledge briefly.  That was quite enough.

Skydeck visitors can walk onto

We enjoyed our visit so much that we both hated leaving.  We are hoping we can return again soon.   We have another list of things we hope to see and do in Chicago the next time…the Field Museum, the Chicago Aquarium, the Signature Room Restaurant on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building, Wrigley Field…and the list goes on and on.  Anyone want to meet us there?

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